What Can The Ancient Greeks And Romans Teach Us About Leadership?
You might think that self-help is a modern phenomenon. You might also think that the nuggets of advice we get from today’s most revered leaders are, in fact, their own original thinking. In that case, you will be surprised – and perhaps even disappointed – to learn that people have been offering their insights on how to get ahead in the world as far back as ancient times. What’s more, many of the clichés that we use today have been around for thousands of years.
In his book, Work and Days, Andy Law, a retired strategic consultant and Classics lover, shares the thinking that enabled the ancient Greeks and Romans to overcome their own personal and professional challenges. This thinking is still highly relevant today. The book includes a reading for each day of the year, based on the words of such classical thinkers as Cicero, Homer, Plato and Marcus Aurelius.
So what are the relevance of these readings to the modern leader? Here is my interpretation of what some of history’s greatest leaders, orators, philosophers, poets and strategists had to say:
Today In: Leadership
1. “Treat those who are junior to you as you wish to be treated by your superiors.” This is sound advice from the Roman philosopher Seneca. What a pity that leaders and managers do not always apply it.
2. “We need not prolong this meeting any further. There’s proper work to be done.” This quote from the Iliad, by Greek author Homer, has not lost a jot of relevance over the years. But what does it say about time management courses that we still face as much of a struggle today keeping our meetings on track as we did in the eighth century BC?
3. “Stress and anxiety make it impossible for workers to get any sleep.” This observation from the Sicilian poet Theocritus could easily be attributed to a 21st century research report. But if we’ve known about the destructive power of stress for so long, why haven’t we done anything about it?
4. “It’s a clever man who can condense down many words into a brief space. And do it well.” This insightful remark by the Greek playwright Euripedes should be heeded by marketing departments everywhere – as well as by the teams that write company annual reports.
5. “When making an entrance, exercise caution: don’t hold back, but don’t be over-keen either.” Roman poet Horace emphasizes the importance of leaders staying cool and not making a big statement when they arrive at meetings. He could also be giving advice on how to kick off a romantic relationship.
6. “A good reputation shines brightly in dark times.” Roman writer and former slave Publilius Syrus reminds leaders that they can’t go wrong by behaving ethically and sticking to their principles. Pertinent advice given the age in which we live.
7. “How often the best brains lie hidden away!” This observation by Roman playwright Plautus serves as a reminder to leaders and managers that they should be making the most of their organization’s talent pool. You might find some real gems if only you are prepared to look for them.
8. “Anyone who thinks that his close competitor knows nothing, and that he is the only one to craft clever strategic plans, is an idiot, his common sense deeply flawed.” This is a simple message from Greek poet Theognis: never underestimate your competitors. They could outdo you at any moment.
9. “Call this accounting? The figure in the ‘total column’ is wrong and calculated badly.” This quote from Roman satirist Gaius Lucilius highlights that human progress will never be sufficient to eradicate financial incompetence. Accounting scandals stand the test of time.
10. “There hasn’t been a great genius who didn’t have a touch of madness.” The final word goes to Seneca, who explains the reason why you should be more tolerant of your organization’s eccentric CEO.
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